The Week Ahead: Verlander returns to game action
Cy Young winner set to pitch on Thursday; Teixeira also slated to play late in week
The sunny -- and occasionally rainy -- days are long. The mornings start early. The work gets done, sometimes after sunset. During the weekday-office and weekend-lounging hours, games are being played and decisions large and small are starting to be made.
There's a rhythm to Spring Training, and as we move into the first Week Ahead that begins with the word "March," the annual Cactus and Grapefruit League processions are rooted in routine.
Injuries are popping up and teams are figuring out how to deal with them? Check.
High-profile players who were hurt are healthy and ready to get back on the field? Of course.
Position battles are in full swing as managers try to envision how their rosters will shake out come Opening Day? A given.
And through it all, somehow there are still very good players available on the free-agent market, waiting to find out which uniform they'll slip on, hopefully as soon as Monday, so they don't miss any more conditioning.
All of those themes are still very much in play as the schedule moves another seven days ahead. In the injury category, the week ahead brings about more speculation that Dodgers right-hander Zack Greinke will not be able to make the trip for the season's Opening Series in Sydney on March 20-22 because of strained right calf.
The Cubs should be without shortstop Starlin Castro for a few days because of a right hamstring strain, which is a mild cause for concern, considering that Castro missed two weeks last spring with a sore left hamstring. But Castro doesn't seem terribly worried about it.
"It's not too bad like last year," Castro said. "We don't want to take a chance. It's early right now. You take a couple days to get better."
The Mariners already have starting rotation issues, with No. 2 starter and last year's Cy Young Award finalist Hisashi Iwakuma out indefinitely with a finger injury, and the club's top prospect, Taijuan Walker, now dealing with shoulder inflammation. It's not likely that either will be ready for the opening of the season, which gives veterans Scott Baker and Randy Wolf better shots at breaking camp on the big league club.
"You're hoping something real positive comes out of Baker and Wolf," Mariners general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "Those are veteran guys that have been around a while. They've got every opportunity to make the club here. Brandon Maurer has to get back on the mound and start throwing again. We've got Erasmo [Ramirez], [Blake] Beavan, [Hector] Noesi. Let 'em all compete.
"It sounds like we've been through the worst with these pitchers in terms of the two that have had setbacks. But the bright side is they should recover nicely, and it's going to make for an interesting camp for everybody else that's in there."
Meanwhile, in Surprise, Ariz., the Rangers have one of their high-priced newcomers, outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, on the shelf on a day-to-day basis with left arm soreness, but on Monday they'll welcome an NFL star to their enclave.
Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, fresh off a Super Bowl championship in his second year in the NFL, will report to camp and put on a Rangers uniform for a day. Wilson, a former Minor League second baseman in the Rockies' organization, has no intention of getting back into pro baseball, but the Rangers selected him in the Minor League portion of the Rule 5 Draft in December, so he could impart some of his wisdom and experience as a winning athlete to the Rangers' younger players.
"The guy has had a lot of success, and he has a championship attitude," Rangers manager Ron Washington said last week. "We're going to give him a chance to talk to our young kids and see what happens. Maybe [shortstop Elvis Andrus] and some of those young guys can hang with him and see what he has to offer."
On the positive side of the injury ledger, the week will bring about a few anticipated returns. Tigers starter Justin Verlander, a former Cy Young Award winner and perennial contender for the American League's top pitching honor, is slated to get into a game on Thursday after missing the beginning of the spring as a result of the core muscle surgery he underwent over the winter.
Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira is expected to play in his first game of the spring on either Thursday or Friday as the slugger continues to come back from surgery on his right wrist.
The baseball world will watch with eager eyes as D-backs right-hander Archie Bradley, MLB.com's No. 5-ranked prospect, makes his first spring outing on Monday night in the second game of a day-night doubleheader.
"I just want him to go out there and pitch," Arizona manager Kirk Gibson said. "He's been working on everything. The one thing to worry about is him getting too much on his mind. He's a natural power guy. He knows he's got to command the zone. He knows he's got to throw strikes. He's got something most guys don't have, [a hard fastball], and we'd like to see him use it. I don't want him to go out there and think he's some finesse pitcher right now."
Bradley might not make the Opening Day roster, but it wouldn't be surprising to see him in The Show at some point in 2014. And throughout other camps, there are still heated competitions for jobs unfolding.
The Dodgers haven't settled on a second baseman, the Rangers are still looking at Neftali Feliz and Joakim Soria in their quest to lock down the closer's role, and the Indians are wondering if Carlos Santana can be a third baseman.
The talk around Angels camp continues to be focused on Albert Pujols' health (it's good so far) and the prospect of signing phenom Mike Trout to a long-term deal. The World Series champion Red Sox might want to do the same with their lefty ace, Jon Lester.
And while this is all going down this week, don't forget to pay attention to the whereabouts of starter Ervin Santana, shortstop Stephen Drew and first baseman/designated hitter Kendrys Morales. All three were expected to be among the most attractive free-agent signings of the winter, and all three are still waiting for the right deal.